SYDNEY, Australia – An asylum-seeker boat heading for Australia has sunk off Java in Indonesia with unconfirmed reports Wednesday, July 24, that as many as 100 people are dead or missing.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) confirmed to AFP that a rescue operation was underway, but said it was being coordinated by Indonesian authorities.
“We are aware of an incident south of Java. Indonesian authorities are responding. Australian authorities are not involved in the incident,” an AMSA spokesman said.
Reports in Australia said the boat carrying between 150 and 170 people, mostly from Sri Lanka and Iran, broke up and sank in heavy seas on Tuesday evening, July 23.
The Australian newspaper cited on its website an official from the Indonesian search and rescue service Basarnas as saying the boat was carrying about 150 people and so far 47 people had been found alive.
It said the body of a child had been recovered and was the only confirmed fatality so far, with many victims still believed to be in the sea.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph, reporting from the scene, said the vessel was carrying 170 people and around 60 of them were dead or missing after the engine of the boat started smoking and taking on water shortly after departure.
“I am the only one back,” a man named Soheil told the newspaper of the group of 61 Iranians he was traveling with, who set off from the fishing village of Cidaun.
“We have problem with motor after two hours. For three hours, we try to come back (to shore).
“The sea very hard, the sea no good. The ship break,” he added.
Soheil said the captain — who he claimed was a Sri Lankan man using a Malaysian crew — abandoned them.
“The captain go to small boat,” he told the Telegraph.
“He no help me, he no help children, he no help baby.”
Australia has struggled to stem an influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, with record numbers turning up in 2012 and more than 15,000 so far in 2013.
Hundreds have drowned making the journey — as recently as last week a boat sank, killing four people — with the latest disaster coming just days after Canberra announced a hardline new plan to send all unauthorized arrivals to Papua New Guinea.
Asylum-seekers arriving in Australian waters will now be sent to the Manus Island processing center on PNG and elsewhere in the Pacific nation for assessment, with no cap on the number that can be transferred.
Even if found to be “genuine refugees” they will have no chance of being settled in Australia, instead having to remain in PNG, be sent back home or to third countries.
In a bid to smash the lucrative people-smuggling networks, Australia on Sunday, July 21, also announced it would pay rewards of up to Aus$200,000 (US$180,000) for information leading to their conviction. – Rappler.com